Philadelphia, PA

After returning from Belgium, we spent a few days in Lake Hopatcong, NJ recovering from jet lag and pulling Clyde out of storage.  Our friend Ellie lives in Verona, NJ with her husband Scott and their two kids, Sadie and Roger.   We spent Memorial Day at their home smoking ribs and grilling brats and enjoying a rare sunny day that week, and later that week had dinner at Krough’s in Sparta, a darling little town on the lake. Then we were ready for one day in Philly, visiting the Liberty Bell and checking two more Top 40 Whiskey bars off the list.

Berlare, Belgium

In mid-May, we put Clyde in storage and Bonnie in long term parking and hopped on a quick flight from Newark to Brussels.  Quick is of course a relative term here as we are used to the two-stop flight from LA to Brussels which is typically much, much longer. While we usually look forward to visiting Johan’s parents every other summer, this was a special trip as Andre was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in March.  Both Andre and Lieve are working hard to keep their spirits high and to remain in good health throughout the treatment, which will last 56 weeks.  We know the next year will bring many ups and downs and hope there are more highs than lows as the chemo works to kill the cancer.  While enjoying a variety of beers at the Dulle Griet in Gent, the five of us smiled while shouting F*ck Cancer!

The city of Gent is close to the town of Berlare where Andre and Lieve live, so we went there for a few great meals at the Packhuis and the Holy Food Market.  We ate at the Restaurant Kasteel van Laarne at Laarne Castle and the Lijsterbes in Berlare.  Lieve’s cooking rivals the best restaurants in Belgium so at home we ate coq au vin, paella, chicken fricassee, croque madams, and quiche.  Then we took long walks around the lake to attenpt to work it off.  Across the lake in Berlare is a petting zoo that is under repair, however there are 3 peacocks that live there and have stayed even though the other animals and birds have been temporarily relocated.  One of the peacocks is especially partial to Johan and seemed to remember him when they met again this year.

Through the marvel of social media, an old childhood friend of Johan’s got in touch via Instagram a few months ago and we were able to meet him and his wife and son for dinner one evening.  Peter and Johan last saw each other about 35 years ago.  Peter’s wife Denise is a lovely and kind lady whom I so enjoyed meeting, and their son Tuur is almost the same age as Nik.  Tuur took Nik out in Leuven one night and we thought it best not to ask exactly what they did until 6am when they returned home.  Whatever they did, they had a ball.

Before we left we squeezed in a quick day trip to Bastogne, one historical place we had not covered on our prior travels.  The interactive War Museum did not disappoint and gave us a first hand feel of the critical battle that was fought there, the Battle of the Bulge.  We learned from Peter during our dinner a few nights earlier that it was in fact here that the soldiers discovered fries.  The Battle of the Bulge was fought in the Wallonia region of Belgium where the primary language is French.  The soldiers, believing they were on French soil, gave them the name French Fries but in fact they were actually in Belgium. We agreed to only use the term Belgian Fries from that day forward.

It was harder than ever to say goodbye this time, knowing what a difficult year lies ahead.  We are grateful to know we are just a plane trip away and can see them anytime.

Washington, D.C.

When Nik’s finals ended in May, we went to American University to help clean out his dorm room and visit after his first year in college.  Before traveling to Belgium to see Johan’s parents, we took a few days to enjoy our nation’s beautiful capital.  A night tour of the monuments was a cool way to get a different perspective of the sites and landmarks we all know well, and our tour guide who grew up in D.C. was able to provide the detail I’d forgotten from my 8th grade trip to D.C. when I learned it all the first time. The tour includes visits to the Capitol Building, White House, Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, WWII Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and FDR Memorial.  We spent the most time at the FDR and WWII Memorials, and I wondered why I didn’t recall either from my initial DC trip. When I look them up and found they were established in 1997 and 2004 respectively, I realized with horror how very old I am. They didn’t even exist when I was here last to tour the monuments.  (The MLK Monument is the most recently established in 2011; at least I knew this one was new though.)  For anyone who went to Washington D.C. long ago and plans a return visit, it’s truly worthwhile to book a tour while you are there.  If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised what you haven’t seen and what you’ve forgotten over the years.  The night tour ended at 10pm but luckily the Old Ebbitt Grill downtown is open until 2am and serves great food.

A one hour drive east got us to the charming town of Annapolis.  We wandered through the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy and stopped in the museum which houses a display of incredible bone model boats.  And since the Top 40 whiskey bars are on the list of important places to visit on this trip, we also stopped at Dry 85 in town and learned this historically significant quote by Senator Morris Shepard in 1930 regarding Prohibition:

“There is as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.”
Guess Senator Shepard was wrong about that.
On our last day before putting Clyde in storage for our visit to Belgium, we went to the Renwick Gallery to see The Art of Burning Man exhibit.  If you’ve ever been curious about Burning Man but terrified at the thought of actually driving to Black Rock City and participating in the event (I’m raising my right hand while typing with my left), check out the artwork and history at this Smithsonian museum – the exhibit is there through January of 2019.

Shenandoah Valley, VA

In early May we spent a week at the Endless Caverns Campground in New Market, VA. The Shenandoah Valley is beautiful and we were lucky to visit Harrisonburg on a night the Collins Center held it’s 7th Annual Chocolate Walk.  The Collins Center works to protect victims of sexual assault and their children, and many of the local businesses participate in the walk by opening their doors to families and visitors from around the area and provide chocolate cookies, candy and brownies.  We were excited to return home with a bag of goodies and met some really cool people while on the walk.  Since it was a long walk, we stopped for a beer and learned abut the Beerworks Trail in the Valley.  When you visit the Valley, you obtain a passport and receive a stamp for each brewery you try (there are at least 20), and they will send you a t-shirt to commemorate your accomplishment once you have tried a beer at six establishments.  We could have taken more hikes along the Appalachian Trail (did you know it’s pronounced Appa-latchan, not Appa-LAY-chan) and longer drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we were really busy eating chocolate and earning our beer shirt during our time in the Valley.  We did of course make some time to tour the caverns, luckily before we ate all of our chocolate as there are a few tight spaces to squeeze through.  Also if that little bat woke up when we walked by and tried to catch us, he would have had no trouble at all. We’re running a little slow these days from the great small batch brewed beer at Pale Fire Brewing, The Friendly Fermenter, Three Notch’d Brewing, Wolfe Street Brewing, Bedlam Brewing and Redbeard Brewing Company.